I recognize that auto makers clearly have to embrace the times and to ignore consumers' flat-out demand for smart phone and mobile accessibility would be bad business. But after reading through the various advancements and standards that Chuck so aptly summarized, I'm still missing the part where in-car connectivity is safer than ever.
The GPS and fleet applications--okay, I think there is great potential there and little concern for driver distraction. But how does the latest standards change the distraction factor when drivers are easily able to integrate their smart phones with the vehicle's main dashboard console, allowing them to text, check email, or browse online for local destinations? Making it more convenient doesn't change the fact that the driver is focused on the task, not the road. I, for one, can't concentrate on what my child or office mate is asking me when I'm engrossed in an email or reading something online. If I'm doing that in my car, I'm not engaged enough to stay on top of lane changers or sudden stops for traffic. An accident waiting to happen in my book.
With the increasing communications capability in the modern auto, via both infotainment and telematics (not to mention GPS and the dozens of other on-board processor), I keep hoping that we'll see a revival of the Intelligent Vehicle Highway System effort of 20 years ago. That's the electronic version of "leave the driving to us," where cars are automatically separated on highways and properly staged on the entrance and exit ramps. It's actually a lot more practical than autonomous vehicles (though not as sexy), and would also constitute a huge infrastructure jobs program.
Actually it makes sense for car connectivity to shift from the PC to the cell phone. Most smatphones have most of what you would need in connectivity, less the office tools like Word and Excel -- which wouldn't be used in a car at any rate. The cell phone is the logical solution -- especially with its app-heavy set of tools.
I agree with Beth here. The distraction factor is huge, even just from someone talking to you when you're driving. And there's a big difference between occasionally glancing at the dashboard to monitor speed or heater/A-C controls and trying to insert a CD while driving, let alone looking at a screen.
Perhaps what would make the most sense is to put all the user interface electronics in the back seat, or make it only accessible from the front seat when the car is stopped or in park gear.
Beth: During the next decade, there's going to be a constant tug of war. Automakers will want to offer features that sell cars, but then those features are going to be questioned from a safety perspective. The truth is, safety will always be a step behind, largely because so many consumers want to bring their electronic stuff into the vehicle. Alex makes a good point: The ultimate solution is some form of autonomous driving. As much as we protest about driver distraction, the number of distracted drivers is going up, not down and that's going to continue to be the case.
I'm not sure I really get what autonomous driving is and how realistic that could be as a solution in terms of widespread adoption. The idea of putting your car on some sort of automated track sounds good on paper or in the movies (and I do like Alex's point about sparking some pretty major infrastructure projects), but how likely is that to happen on any kind of broad basis where it could really make an impact?
It would be great to see the IVHS (or some reasonably drawn facsimile) finally make an appearance after so many false starts and promises. Today's vehicles and systems are more than capable. I question whether this should be a government effort or (led by) private enterprise. Privately owned toll highways can dictate their own usage and vehicle requirements, as well as systems infrastructure. Working with vehicle manufacturers, integrators, and industry experts, they are in the best position to actually roll out a trial system.
That is a really good idea, Ann. Most in-dash GPS will not let you set a new location while driving for fear of distraction. This same concept would work well because you would not be distracted while driving, but the people in the backseat could access the internet.
It's hard to believe, Beth, but autonomous driving doesn't involve a track or a so-called smart highway. In autonomous driving, the vehicle would drive completely on its own over a conventional road. The idea is theoretically possible; Google has one autonomous car that has already logged 140,000 miles on all kinds of different roads. GM claims the technology will be ready by 2020, but I think it will take a lot longer than that for consumers to warm up to the idea.
If that's the case, there will likely be even bigger trust issues surrounding autonomous driving compared to very real concerns and hesitations with new features like back-up cameras and driver alert systems. As a result, I agree Chuck. It will likely be years before consumers, en masse, warm up to the idea of a car that can drive itself.
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